Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#1
The title says it all. Medieval buffs pls explain, Let's say your primary weapon is a bill hook, so why take an arming sword as a secondary and not a 2-handed sword? My guesses as to why they did carry arming swords are it was a lot more expensive, hard to train with and or awkward to carry. When you had to fall back on using your secondary weapon it usually means it's a very dire situation so why not increase ur chances in those circumstances with a superior weapon?

Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#2
I'm likely to be wrong in regards to certain time periods/regions/etc, but I believe that swords being a secondary weapon is more in the context of warfare, where preferably you don't have to get into the range of your opponents' weapons by way of maintaining distance. As such, primary weapons wouldn't be something like a billhook (unless you're talking about the polearm), but a spear, halberd, etc. The reason why it's a secondary weapon is because of its range, I believe? Furthermore, if you're in a battlefield on foot, there's a good chance you're carrying a shield. This might be a reason why single-handed swords were used; you can still use your shield on the other hand.

You can also probably argue that because maintaining range is the safest way to not get killed, you're better off finding ways to improves chances of not getting that pole weapon somehow disabled rather than making your secondary weapon "more effective". It's not unlike making a ship and having a lifeboat; a lifeboat isn't exactly peak boat, but it works when your ship is sinking. Improving the lifeboat to have a motor engine probably isn't going to do as much as just having a better ship. I think also that swords in general require more training, and harder to train the soldiers to use at its best compared to polearms.

As far as I'm aware, in context of civilians, they have swords as their primary self-defense. I don't think they carry polearms, or are allowed to to begin with... I think that was the reason why some farming tools became shaped so that it could be repurposed as a war weapon if the situation calls for it.

I would try to find links to references, but honestly I seriously need to sleep. If you need me to hunt them down, I'll do so once I get some zzz's.

Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#3
There are tons of reasons. From weight, to use with a sheild. If you use a halberd then it it would make sense for an arming sword for going indoors. If you use a shield then you aren't going to use two hands on the sword.

Generally, war weapons are those with long reach and power. Weapons like spears, bec de Corbins, two handed axes, are all weapons for war. swords are pretty much for when you don't have anything else longer when on the battle field. In a city you probably aren't going to need two handed swords and it may even be an advantage in an alley or someplace with tight quarters.

I recommend watching shadiversity on youtube, he goes in way more detail on these things.

Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#4
It's a secondary weapon for a reason. If you are using it, then you are already F*ck. So, if you are NOT using it, it has to be something conveniently out of the way.

Imagine a detective or a cop. He has his main weapon either on his belt holster or in a shoulder holster. And his backup weapon will be hidden in his ankle holster. If you are the cop, you are not going to put a shotgun or an assault rifle in there just because it is more effective than any pee shooter.

It is basically the same thing in all the soldiers of any time, from medieval to world war 2, to modern soldiers, and maybe even in futuristic soldiers. The warrior will be trained to use his main weapon as the weapon of choice. The one he is best at. A prudent warrior might have a secondary weapon, but the only time he will be using that is if he lost his main weapon or render it ineffective. Either way, there is no reason for it to be superior to your main weapon.

Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#5
A sword was not only a weapon, but a symbol of status and power. They initially were expensive and rare, and you could carry one around with ease, thus displaying to everyone in the world that you are an important person. That is why even today, a sword is a part of many military dress uniforms, and fencing is an Olympic sport.

Right up to the mid-nineteenth century, the sword was your go-to weapon of choice. Many different schools of thought exist in the proper technique and skill of its handling. It's a defensive weapon as well as an offensive one. Also, besides its military applications, a sword can be used for home defense and thwarting thugs.

Few people would be fool enough to mess with a person who was wearing a sword. 🙀

Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#6
Despite what you may have seen in movies or anime, swords do not cut through a spear shaft. You don't need a backup weapon for when your primary weapon is lost or destroyed. A back-up weapon was for situations in which your main weapon was ineffective. In the case of polearms, this meant when you were fighting in confined spaces or when you couldn't keep your opponent at bay. There is no space or time for full swings to make the most out of a mace or axe. In those situations, a one handed stabbing weapon is your best option.

Less well known than sword schools, there were schools for using polearms too. with parries, blocks, footwork, stances and everything. Like Comiak, I would also suggest looking up shadiversity videos if you want to get a bit of an understanding on different weapons and armors and a bit of historical accuracy.

Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#7

ArDeeBurger Wrote: A sword was not only a weapon, but a symbol of status and power. They initially were expensive and rare, and you could carry one around with ease, thus displaying to everyone in the world that you are an important person. That is why even today, a sword is a part of many military dress uniforms, and fencing is an Olympic sport.

Right up to the mid-nineteenth century, the sword was your go-to weapon of choice. Many different schools of thought exist in the proper technique and skill of its handling. It's a defensive weapon as well as an offensive one. Also, besides its military applications, a sword can be used for home defense and thwarting thugs.

Few people would be fool enough to mess with a person who was wearing a sword. 🙀



I believe swords became somewhat more affordable quite a while ago, at least in context of mass-production for warfare. Military post and achievements is a social status all right, but I don't believe all swords would be inherently a symbol of high status. This thread debates the prices of a cheap good sword around 600-1400. Also, a video by Lindybeige on swords as a status symbol. Not a medieval example, but I mean, a lot of cultures venerate the sword similarly anyway (to a degree. The Chinese jian has a similar status as a gentleman's weapon, but still they value spears more for military) and this video showcases that even in Han dynasty (roughly 200 BC to 200 AD), one provincial arsenal held over 250,000 swords. They're not unlike guns. Expensive, but not impossible to precure by most people.

Both our posts were already getting off-topic, though. Sorry bout that, I just felt like there needs to be nuance on that front, given how much existing misconception exists already about swords.

Batotit made a great comparison and a more succinct point than I did in my first post. Also, cost of production and the fact that even more training would be required to make the "investment" worth it deters those commissioning tens of thousands of weapons from making the switch. In any case, I can't imagine the jump in survival chances would be that high too. More training would be more valuable than extra inches of steel.



Re: Why did people use arming swords as a backup weapon and not a 2-handed sword?

#8
I'd just like to add a few points. 

Namio is on the right track with the assumption about range, though it's called superior versus inferior weaponry. This doesn't judge quality, but rather battlefield control. An arming sword is a more deadly weapon than a quaterstaff in the hands of equally-skilled opponents, but the quarterstaff is considered the superior weapon because the swordsman has to step into the staff-wielder's range in order to strike. However, the arming sword becomes the superior weapon the moment the swordsman faces an opponent with a smaller weapon. 

Let's say I'm somehow able to be simultaneously armed with a bo staff/quarterstaff (functionally identical weapons), an arming sword, nunchaku, a tonfa, and a dagger (all of which I can use in real life). They range from superior to inferior in that order, representing control of the field. If, say, I'm using chucks and manage to disarm a swordsman (theoretically possible; there are techniques for it and I've practiced them, but it's hard to pull off even in sparring), my chucks don't become the superior weapon relative to the sword just because I've won. 

If I'm using a staff and have to switch to something inferior, then I've by definition yielded ground. I don't want to pull out a large weapon unless I can guarantee that my opponent is not going to close the distance in that time. So if it's sudden, I'll probably skip the sword and go for the chucks or tonfa instead, depending on what the other guy is using. I can control more territory with chucks, but a tonfa is more versatile, especially for defense. 

This weapon-calculus gets more vital with an indoors close-quarters fight, as Comiak pointed out. If I'm in a narrow hallway, my advantage with nunchaku is potentially negated. Swords fare better, but only if you can easily use them to stab, which is not what a two-hander is built for. You can stab with a two-hander, but it's optimized for, well, a set of movements somewhat similar to those of a sharpened baseball bat. That's not to say you can't make a two-hander of any kind dance if you know what you're doing, but their typical recorded use involves more swinging, less stabbing. 

On top of that, and as opposed to typical portrayals in fiction, two-handers were not carried on your back. You had to actually carry them in hand, typically resting against your shoulder. Why in the world would I carry a giant sword if my primary weapon is supposed to be a billhook polearm? I'd have to drop one to use the other.